One million people are infected with the AIDS virus (HIV) and 4 million people are infected with the Hepatitis C virus in the United States. Hepatitis C infections are currently the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. Scientists don’t foresee a bright future. Many people are carrying the virus around in their livers and don’t even know it. Hepatitis C virus infection typically takes 2-3 decades before it starts causing significant liver damage. The most common means of getting Hepatitis C virus infections is via needle sharing by intravenous drug users. Around 350,000 patients are infected with both HIV and Hepatitis C viruses. The fact that people were coinfected with both viruses was not a big problem before combination therapy for AIDS was initiated. HIV infected patients typically would die of AIDS before the Hepatitis C infection had time to destroy their liver. With the advent of combination therapy for AIDS physicians are seeing patients die not of AIDS but of their Hepatitis C virus infections. It also has been shown that disease in patients with both viral infections progresses more rapidly than in patients with just one of these viral infections. The Hepatitis C virus is causing liver damage and so do some drugs used to treat the HIV infection. These dual causes of liver damage make it very difficult to treat patients for the HIV infection.
To see if treatment of the Hepatitis C infection and HIV infection could be given at the same time researchers at The Cabrini Institute for Virologic Care gave treatments for both viral infections to patients infected with both of these viruses. These patients were given interferon alfa-2b and ribavirin to treat the Hepatitis C infection and combination therapy for the HIV infection. When evaluated a year later the researchers found that both viruses were at undetectable levels in the patient’s blood. This is a great finding. They did not cure these patients. Many studies have demonstrated that viral levels in the blood rise again once drug therapy is stopped.
This will however help patients with both of these viral infections to live longer and better lives. This work also confirms previous work that the combination therapy (interferon alfa-2b and ribavirin) for Hepatitis C virus is better in treating Hepatitis C infections than just using interferon alfa-2b alone.